Rob Ford Opera Toronto

Rob Ford Opera bridges art and politics

It seems only natural after his ballet debut at the Four Seasons in The Nutcracker that Rob Ford's name be attached to the other form of entertainment that takes place there, opera. While he won't be performing this time around, Toronto's mayor is the title character of an absurdist piece from Michael Albano, resident stage director of the Opera Training Programme at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music. Given the buzz that's already surrounding the production, I asked Albano to give me some background on the creation of Rob Ford: The Opera.

What was your inspiration in creating the opera?

We have an excellent student composer project at the Faculty of Music where students get a chance to write and perform opera — it's one of our most successful programs. Every year we're looking for new subject matter. I was originally thinking of a project with Sophocles' Antigone, until one day when I was working at a Starbucks on Bloor Street. Everybody there was talking about Rob Ford...everybody. And I thought, I'm kind of missing the boat here. Suddenly, it seemed like a very interesting idea.

Do you think opera as a form lends itself well to Ford's story?

I think if one approaches it in a very specific way, where there is room for the music, yes. I've long been a great admirer of Ionesco and Beckett, and theatre of the absurd has never really made inroads into opera. This piece qualifies very much as theatre of the absurd, bearing in mind that absurd doesn't mean it's cartoonish.

What can you tell me about the music?

There are four different student composers collaborating on the music — Massimo Guido, Anna Hostman, Adam Scime and Saman Shah. The question they posed to each other was, what is the right musical voice for this story? Gradually, they found it. It's very much in a 21st century style and they've done some clever things. There's a scene where Ford is being born, which sounds to me reminiscent of the soundtrack of The Omen.

Do you follow Toronto politics closely?

I'm a political junkie. So many people look to the theatre for entertainment, as they should, but those of us who work in the theatre tend to look to politics for entertainment.

What has the response been like from the students involved?

The Faculty of Music had a tremendously positive response and the students are terribly enthusiastic. They're thrilled to be in something so edgy and exciting, and something that is written specifically for them. They're very much behind it.

Is there a specific audience you hope will be attracted to the piece?

I hope that people who don't usually go to opera, that normally wouldn't think of it, might attend. It would be great to attract community members not familiar with the form.

Do you have aspirations for the opera beyond its premiere on the 22nd?

You know, I actually haven't thought that much about it. When you write so often to make a deadline, there's a huge sigh of relief when you've finished. We'll just have to see how it goes.

Rob Ford: The Opera will be performed on Sunday, January 22, at the MacMillan Theatre (80 Queen's Park) on University of Toronto campus. Admission is free.

Photo from the mayor's Facebook page

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